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Coins for the Colonies

Started by UK Decimal +, August 21, 2010, 04:48:18 PM

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UK Decimal +

I am about to try to get together, hopefully with your help, details of British coins used OFFICIALLY anywhere other than within the United Kingdom of Great Britain and Northern Ireland.

The first questions are:-

Are any current British coins OFFICIALLY used anywhere other than within the UK?

Have any British decimal coins been OFFICIALLY used outside the UK?

Depending on any replies here, I will move the subject to pre-decimal and start to list the ones that I know of, e.g. the 1951 (old) pennies issued mainly for Bermuda, the one third farthings for Malta, etc.   I think that as we work backwards, the list will become extensive.   I have never seen this information listed.


Ilford, Essex, near London, England.

People look for problems and complain.   Engineers find solutions but people still complain.


For a start, you find British coins in the Crown Dependencies of Jersey, Guernsey, and the Isle of Man. Since the Crown Dependencies are in currency union with the UK, i.e. they use GBP, not the "Manx pound" or "Guernsey pound" or anything else, then their use is surely official. In fact, it is stated law in Alderney (a semi-autonomous dependency of Guernsey) that the island MUST use British currency.

Then we move on to those British overseas territories that use their OWN version of the pound: the Gibraltar pound, the Saint Helena pound, and the Falklands pound. These currencies are deliberately kept at par with the UK pound sterling. They all use and accept UK coins and banknotes. Whether this is official, I don't know, but I would guess it is, since in each case the currency is kept at par with the UK pound sterling.

Visit the website of The Royal Mint Museum.

See: The Royal Mint Museum.


Malta used the full range of British money until independence.


Most coins dated 1878 seemed to have been shipped to Cyprus. (source: Pridmore). All sixpences dated 1879 were sent to Cyprus. There were smaller shipments in 1889, 1890, 1891 and 1901 (source: Remick et al.)

An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.


Look up "Proclamation Coins" for a list of coins (British and "foreign") officially accepted for use in New South Wales in the early 19th Century, and the values they were assigned - they didn't always match the "home" values.  Because New Zealand was governed from NSW at the time (did that make us a "sub-colony"?) the Proclamation Coins are deemed to be our first official coinage too.

In addition, I think the bulk of the 1875 (H? not sure) penny issue came out here, so that date is more commonly found here than in the UK.
I'll have to check Sutherland later on for more details.

UK Decimal +

I am trying to list the places that have / have had British coins struck for their use.   As you might have guessed, I am trying to put it in some sort of order, starting with the present and working back (hence starting it under the decimal era), although by Country might be better - let's see how it progresses.   I am not looking at places producing their own coinage, even if it is tied to the pound.   Perhaps I should.

So far, we have the problem of Alderney; I thought that they are tied to using the same denominations as Britain, equivalent to the Pound Sterling, but that they use Guernsey coinage officially, not British.   Perhaps the question is whether, if they were short of coins, they would be able to 'order' British coins?   The fact that British coins do regularly circulate there could perhaps be added to a secondary list.   Maybe we will need a third list of places using the pound denomination.

Any suggestions on presentation of the details would be appreciated.   Perhaps we can use the present topic to discuss the matter in general terms so that some sort of framework can be put together.   Do we need lists for the following;-

Countries currently using British coins OFFICIALLY?
Countries where British coins are regularly found in circulation alongside local coinage?
Countries using a Pound Sterling equivalent having their own coinage?

Perhaps this is why I've never seen any listing!

The earlier examples I will bear in mind when I move to the pre-decimal era.

Ilford, Essex, near London, England.

People look for problems and complain.   Engineers find solutions but people still complain.


Quote from: UK Decimal + on August 22, 2010, 02:01:56 PM
So far, we have the problem of Alderney; I thought that they are tied to using the same denominations as Britain, equivalent to the Pound Sterling, but that they use Guernsey coinage officially, not British.   Perhaps the question is whether, if they were short of coins, they would be able to 'order' British coins?

> equivalent to the Pound Sterling

They are not just equivalent: they ARE the pound sterling. There is no Guernsey pound, no Alderney pound, so both the UK coinage and the "local" coinage are used officially, as they are merely variations of the same thing. They surely can therefore "order" UK coins. When I was in Guernsey in 2001, I went to the bank in St. Peter Port at various points, to get bags of different denominations. A bag of pennies, for instance, yielded old and new Guernsey pennies (the design changed at some point in the 1980s) and also UK and Jersey pennies. If they weren't official, surely the banks wouldn't stock them?

I was recently corresponding with an English woman who had worked for a bank in the Isle of Man. She maintains that so far as the IOM is concerned (and she agrees with this), IOM notes and coins ARE legal tender in the UK, because they are the pound sterling. She also stated that IOM notes AND coins ARE accepted in parts of Lancashire. As you know, the concept of legal tender is always hotly debated in the UK, and it is difficult to find two people agreeing on what in means in theory or practice. This arises from the fact that the Bank of ENGLAND controls the currency, whilst banks in Scotland and Northern Ireland also have the right to issue their own banknotes. That right is denied to Wales, which is always lumped in with England as "England and Wales", whereas Scotland and Northern Ireland have their own separate legal systems.

Imagine a situation in the Euroland, where the euro coins of one country were not accepted in another country. How illogical would that be? Well, we have that situation in the UK and Crown Dependencies. ALL the coins that circulate in the UK and the Crown Dependencies ARE the pound sterling - the SAME pound sterling. But the notes and coins of the semi-autonomous Crown Dependencies are not generally accepted by shops and businesses in the UK.

Inevitably the different constituent countries of the UK are proud of their different legal systems, and that is one reason why this confusion has arisen. However, I think it is about time some standardisation was applied in the UK to the status of these different coins and banknotes. Ideally this would be done by a law specifically proclaiming that Scottish and Northern Irish banknotes would all be legal tender throughout the UK, as would all Crown Dependency coins. I would then back this up with TV and internet adverts, familarising the population with the different designs and encouraging shops, businesses and inidividuals to accept them. Yes, diversity increases complexity and potentially causes confusion. But if the inhabitants of Euroland can cope with the various different euro coins, surely we can cope with the lesser variety of coins found within the British Isles? I also think the population would respond positively to such variety.

I always remember the fascination of one poster to the Royal Mint forum (when it existed) who had found a five pence depicting a monkey and wondered why. It was of course a Gibraltar five pence. The Gibraltar, Falkland and St. Helena pounds are a separate issue, of course, as they are separate currencies, kept at par with the UK pound sterling, so in theory they could be devalued at any time, if the issuing authorities decided to break the link with the UK pound sterling.

In short, ALL UK and Channel Island coins and notes are official within the Channel Islands.
Visit the website of The Royal Mint Museum.

See: The Royal Mint Museum.


One of the major rules of life is that nothing is ever simple. So it is with the use of UK coins outside the UK. The best answer may be that unless you can prove otherwise, they were used all over the world. Young rich Englishmen making their "grand tour" with their servants often had nothing but disdain for the coins of other nations. The natives would of course accept British coins, at an appropriate discount.

Official bribes were often paid in British gold coins, especially at the time Britain was a world power (about 1750 to around 1920, which includes Spanish and Austrian wars of succession and the Napoleonic wars). Even afterwards, deeply conservative local Arab rulers wanted their bribes in gold sovereigns.

However, the major complications are the regulations of 1704 and 1825. A royal proclamation of 18th June 1704 (An Act for Ascertaining the Rates of Foreign Coins in Her Majesties Plantations in America (6 Anne, cap 57, 1707) fixed the rate of all kinds of foreign coins, but principally the Spanish colonial coins to the shilling and set maximum amounts of these coins that could be used for payment. From that time on, the shilling was the principal currency in all British colonies, but foreign coins were still allowed to circulate, albeit at a fixed rate. In practice, the proclamation was circumvented and avoided. Massachusetts rejected the proclamation, New York said it would enforce it after New England and Pennsylvania said it would wait for New York, the West Indies started using gold, as it wasn't covered by the proclamation, others issued paper.

Meanwhile, the British occupation troops were normally paid in sterling (though anything else, ranging from rum, sugar and tobacco to playing cards signed by the commander was used if shipments of coins did not arrive on time.) Depending on local rates, these coins were accepted by local shopkeepers at face and melted or accepted at a discount and sent back to Britain for redemption at face value and replaced by the same worn Spanish coins that had been circulating before. Chalmers says that only Barbados, Bermuda and Virginia managed to introduce British money at proclamation rates. Nevertheless, since the soldiers were paid in sterling coins, you must assume that British coins circulated in all British colonies in the period 1704-1825.

With the end of the wars of Napoleon, the British currency was reformed thoroughly in 1816. This paved the way for a reform of colonial money, which came about in 1825. By that time, the hegemony of the pieces of eight had ended. An order in Council of 23rd March 1825 introduced the new shilling in all colonies. Like its predecessor, this rule was also a dead letter to begin with, as it had the rate of the Spanish coins wrong and did not rate Portuguese gold, but it was supported by an interesting mechanism.

The organisation responsible for paying the occupation forces was the Commissariat. They usually financed payday by 30 day bills drawn on the Treasury. These bills were now issued at £103/£100 to the general public, but only on payment of British silver. This meant that someone who had a capital of say £1200, could each month buy a 30 day bill and get a government guaranteed return of 36% p.a., provided that he had each month £100 in British silver. If the person was e.g. a Jamaican trader, he would cream the silver from his money inflow, pay it to the Commissariat, who would pay it to the soldiers who would pay it to the shopkeepers, who would pay it to the traders etc.

In view of the generous risk/return proposition, I have no doubt that the price of UK silver was boosted by its mechanism, but all it did was create artificial circulation, in which the soldiers still could only pay with their coins at face and the traders (and maybe some shopkeepers) got away with the extra profit. Nevertheless, from 1825, in theory, all British colonies could only use British currency legally.

The Order in Council of 1825 was gradually and informally replaced by local systems, based on strong coins, such as the USD, the Indian rupee and the Straits dollar (like USD, a successor to the old pieces of eight). So the challenge is to find out when British coins were used in practice. Let me give you one example.

The first time I know of that anyone mentioned coins actually circulating in Australia is "Account of the English Colony in New South Wales" by David Collins (1802). Collins says that the coins were mainly "dollars" (Spanish colonial pieces of eight, presumably coming from the Philippines), rupees and Dutch coins (presumably coppers from the Netherlands East Indies). No British money, though the proclamation of 1704 applied.

There are some interesting texts in which currencies are mentioned, but it does not become clear if they refer to coins, currency or paper. Consider the following text from 1796:

"Several articles having been brought for sale in the "Marquis Cornwallis" a shop was opened on shore. As money or orders on , or by, any of the responsible officers of the colony, were taken at this shop for goods, an opportunity was afforded to some knowing ones among the prisoners to play off not only base money (as counterfeit Spanish dollars and rupees) but forged notes and orders."

Coleman Hyman, in "An account of the Coins, Coinages, and Currency of Australasia" shows convincingly that the main unit of settlement in Australia was rum, though the unit of account was the Spanish dollar (it was greatly overvalued against other silver coins) and the official money was British.

Between 1803 and 1822, rum was gradually replaced by promissory notes. These were in sterling, but they usually traded at a discount. From time to time, Spanish silver was sent to Australia, only to disappear. The main culprit was the government, which issued 30 day bills for silver and paid in paper for what it bought, thereby supporting the overvaluation of "dollars", while keeping their books in undervalued shillings. Still, some British coins must have circulated as Chalmers claims that British copper were taken for three halfpence per penny in the Commissariat in Sydney.

From 1822 to 1829, chaos prevailed. At one point, the government had three rates for the dollar: 5 shillings when it was buying things, 4/8 when it was paying military salaries and 4/- when it was paying civilian salaries. The Order in Council of 1825 meant nothing, as there were not enough British coins available to enforce it.

Only in 1829, some order was achieved, as the traders and shopkeepers of Sydney decided to accept "dollars" at 4/2 and rupees for 1/9. This is also the first indication that at least in the cities, British money was being used. As Spanish silver was no longer overvalued, it was exported to other colonies were it still was (chiefly Mauritius). This drained an important amount of small coins from the economy. By 1852, they were increasingly replaced by tokens. These are denominated in pennies, a further indication that British money was used. However, the tokens were light weight and paper money - which was denominated in £.s.d, was being discounted by 2.5%, so heavy doubts remain.

From 1863, newspapers started to carry complaints about the tokens, so it is safe to assume that at this time, British coins had become more plentiful. In 1868, the tokens were finally banned: "arrangements having now been completed for the distribution of the Imperial bronze coinage, the Colonial Treasurer directs the withdrawal of the Treasury notice of the 5th August last, under which, pending such arrangements, the copper tokens in circulation were authorized to be taken in the ordinary transaction of business in the various public departments". (Government Gazette Extraordinary, 22nd September 1868)

From 1868 on until decimalization, Australia was in practice using coins that were interchangeable with British coins. It would have been theoretically possible for British coins to remain into circulation until decimalization, but I don't know whether or not they did.

So there you are. You have a choice of dates to choose from for the beginning of the use of British coins, the end date is unclear and you have to decide whether Australian coins count as British. On top of that, remember that Australia is an easy case because it is well documented.

An unidentified coin is a piece of metal. An identified coin is a piece of history.

UK Decimal +

I've been having second thoughts on this, as much has already been written in these pages, including this topic.

I think that I will show illustrations of some coins which catalogues suggest were issued specially for colonial use and invite further comments on them.   I will then try to put a list of them together, adding brief comments from replies received and any other information that I can find.

In the meantime, please use this heading for any general comments and clues.

Ilford, Essex, near London, England.

People look for problems and complain.   Engineers find solutions but people still complain.


Following on from Figleaf's post, I think you'll have to restrict yourself to (relatively) modern UK coinages which are of token value only, or made in base metal (i.e. 1816 onwards for 'silver'). These coinages are worth something because a respected authority says they are, and the corollary is that in areas where that authority's remit isn't recognised, they're worthless (or worth purely the value of the raw materials in local currency).

In earlier times, the actual metal content determined the value, so merchants would weigh coins, and deformed, worn or foreign ones were perfectly acceptable providing the purity and weight were OK. Whether the issuing authority had legitimate jurisdiction over another territory that used a given coin, and if so, whether it made an explicit law saying that the coins were legal tender there, was probably irrelevant -- the locals would accept anything (coins, jewellery, scrap, bullion...) of the required weight and fineness. The same has been true much more recently of gold coins. I believe that European coinage was fairly interchangeable in the medieval period. At what point did it become a matter of public policy (and perhaps national pride) to mandate the exclusive use of one country's coins within that country?